Birmingham City Council under fire for single trustee role

Public meeting over the future of Highbury Hall

Charities and community groups criticised Birmingham City Council at a public meeting last week for the way it has managed a local charity as sole trustee.

The Highbury Trust, which owns the Highbury Hall stately home and gardens in the south of the city, has been run by the council since 1932 but now requires an injection of £3.85m to renovate the hall.

At a meeting to hear views about the future of the hall, local residents told the council that conflicts of interest prevented the trust being operated effectively, and that independent trustees should be appointed to manage the site alongside councillors.

"The Charity Commission has said for a very long time that there's not enough charitable activity taking place on the site," said Barry Henley, a former councillor and local campaigner.

"The council as trustee renting out the building to the council as local authority just isn't workable. One can't negotiate effectively with the other."

James Fitzpatrick, a representative of the West Midlands Charitable Trusts Group, said that his members would potentially be interested in supporting the work of the trust, but had worries about the trust's governance. He said an audit commission report in 2006 had highlighted shortcomings in the trust's man- agement, but no changes had yet been made.

Mary de Vere Taylor, the great-granddaughter of Joseph Chamberlain, who donated the land and hall to the people, said she had offered to become a trustee of the charity but had not received a response from the council.

John Alden, chair of the council's trusts and charities sub-committee, described the residents' proposals as "an interesting model" and said the council would make its decision for the hall after Christmas.

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